Q Where can I find all-natural wedding gown fabrics or eco-friendly finished gowns?
A So you said yes (or, hey, maybe your mate did), but you haven't agreed to sell out your earthly convictions just to look glam at the altar. Good for you! Let's make sure they sing "Here comes the bride, all dressed in hemp-silk charmeuse" as you walk down the aisle.
Peak bridal season is only months away, so we need to get cracking. First thing you gotta do is get your lingo right. You say you want a natural fabric for your gown, but you should know that although many quality bridal textiles come from "natural" fibres like silk, they aren't considered all that eco-friendly.
Silk fibres, unspooled from boiled silk moth cocoons (not cool with hardcore vegans, by the way), may still be bleached and dyed with potent chemicals. And if your tulle, chiffon or satin isn't real silk (the real deal is much more expensive), it's probably wood-pulp-based rayon (a water- and energy-intensive polluter) or petrol-based nylon. Not to mention that all that intricate beading was probably done by the tired hands of a very poorly paid worker.
So what's an earth-lovin' bride-to-be to look for? Well, hemp-silk blends are a big fave among green bridal designers. Hemp, a naturally low-pesticide crop that requires much less water than cotton, when blended with silk has a lovely sheen that's absolutely perfect for a wedding dress. You can find some by the metre at Toronto Hemp Company on Yonge (Torontohemp.com), or head online for a bigger selection of hues. Near Sea Naturals (Nearseanaturals.com) will send you swatches of its hemp silk charmeuse for about 50 cents a swatch. It comes in all sorts of colours, great if you want to wrap a sash around your waist or need fabric for your bridesmaids' or flower girl's dresses. OrganicWeddings.com also sends out swatches of hemp-silk in creams and ivories.
If you're a veg-friendly girl and supporting silk freaks you out, fear not. A special sort of silk called peace silk, aka vegetarian silk, allows the poor moth to emerge from the cocoon and live out a full, happy little life. AuroraSilk.com has several to choose from and even lets you custom dye your batch with natural hues.
Still, DIY dresses require a good design idea and a great seamstress. If you're lacking both, it's time to lean on someone else's talents. The problem is I've yet to find any local designers stitching gowns with sustainable fabrics. However, you can find a burgeoning assortment of beautiful, billowing wedding dresses on the Web. New Mexico-based Conscious Clothing (Getconscious.com) has several pages of wedding dresses on its site (not to mention plenty of flower girl and bridesmaid designs) made from either hemp-silk floral jacquard or satin or a hemp-Tencel (a sustainable wood-pulp-based fabric) blend for vegan brides, starting from around $800. The company will also work with you on custom designs.
Want to add a little sizzle to your soirée? Sure, you can wear a hot hemp-silk corset by Texas-based Faernyn's Grove (MyCorset.com) under your dress, but the company recommends showing it off over a matching bridal skirt. The designer uses formaldehyde-free silk in her hemp blend, or 100 per cent organic cotton if you prefer. Her textiles come from a fair trade women's co-op in Nicaragua.
The broadest selection comes from Olivia Luca (OliviaLuca.com) of Portland, Oregon - maybe because this company makes it ridiculously easy for you to design your own dress. The site allows you to stipulate absolutely everything, including your skin tone, bodice style, skirt length and shape, sash and, of course, fabric (think hemp-silk charmeuse, hemcel and organic cotton sateen), all with just a few quick clicks. It then gives you an estimate for your masterpiece. It even offsets the CO2 involved in shipping the dress to you.
Lastly, you can always promote the chicest form of post-consumer recycling and go the vintage route. Plus altering your mom's (or nana's) old dress lets you tick the "something borrowed" requirement off your list. As does rummaging through vintage shops, where you're sure to spot some unique beauties with a little patience. Hate the retro look? Craigslist.org and Kijiji.ca both offer lots of designer dresses worn for one brief day. (Hell, some never even made it to the altar.) You'll find some serious scores here for anywhere from $100 to $1,000.
It's safe to say that even sample sales qualify as recycling, at least the post-industrial type. Seriously. Those sample gowns made for runways, ad shoots or showrooms may be gently used, but, boy, do they make for great bargains.
Once you've wowed the crowds with your stunning, ecologically conscious attire, you can ensure your dress keeps giving by donating it to the Brides' Project (www.thebridesproject.com). The group sells previously worn dresses (including maternity bridal gowns) for a good price to brides on a budget and donates the cash to cancer charities. Oh, and your bridesmaids should consider donating their dresses, too. The Corsage Project (www.corsageproject.ca) gives gowns to high school girls who can't afford their own prom dresses.